EPA seeks comments on Iowa CAFO plans

Sep 21, 2012

One week after the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) responded to an Environment Protection Agency (EPA) report criticizing the state’s handling of its concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) program, EPA opened a 30-day public comment period on Iowa’s proposed changes to the program.

Iowa, the nation’s largest pork-producing state, has about 7,000 livestock operations that meet the EPA definition of a CAFO.

EPA Region 7 released a report on July 12 outlining initial findings from a preliminary investigation that identified what EPA said were deficiencies in Iowa’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES.

Among several findings, the EPA report found IDNR did not have an adequate program to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need NPDES permits.

EPA Region 7 also said in its findings that IDNR needed to clarify its authority to issue NPDES permits to CAFOs that discharge. EPA said it also found in a number of cases involving Clean Water Act violations that IDNR “failed to take timely and adequate enforcement actions” and assess adequate penalties.

“Transparency and public involvement are important components of this process and we need to hear from those that are affected by our decisions,” Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 administrator, said in a statement.

In its response to EPA Region 7 on Sept. 11, IDNR officials outlined a number of steps to improve the program, including hiring more full-time staff by 2014 to bolster CAFO inspections.

IDNR offered a timeline for making a number of improvements to the program and a timeline for when it would respond to EPA.

• By Nov. 1, 2012, the state said it will start to gather stakeholder input on rulemaking to revise Iowa law regarding NPDES permit requirements.

• By Jan. 31, 2013, the state plans to complete updated priorities, new checklists and guidance; develop a referral checklist to ensure proper enforcement; and incorporate an economic benefit plan into the IDNR enforcement process to better detail penalty calculations.

• By April 30, 2013, the state said it will train existing staff on new priorities, checklists, guidance and updates to the state’s permitting manual.

• By July 1, 2013, the state hopes to begin hiring new staff “if adequate funding is received.”

The EPA findings were made in response to a 2007 petition filed by several state environmental groups that asked EPA to take over the Iowa CAFO permitting program. In 2011, the groups announced plans to file a lawsuit if EPA did not respond to the petition.

IDNR’s response and EPA’s initial report are available at www.epa.gov/region7/water.

A link to the public notice is available at www.epa.gov/region7/public_notices. — Todd Neeley, DTN